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[whitespace] Katie Gerrard Scheuch
Photograph by Christopher Gardner

Building a Following: Restaurateur Katie Gerrard Scheuch knows the way to her patrons' minds is through their stomachs and their hearts.

Love Story

One of the year's most endearing culinary finds, Katie's Café Amore pulsates with kindness and hospitality

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

THERE'S A SIGN in the dining room of Katie's Café Amore that reads: "If you are grouchy or irritable, or just plain mean, there will be a $10 charge for putting up with you." And if you don't believe it, go into the bathroom and see who's enforcing this edict. Let's just say the icon in question is armed with a Winchester and attitude to spare. Put another way, bad thoughts are banned here.

Not that such a ban was ever necessary, since the former tenant was Papa Rick's, a restaurant that never served great food but was always comfortable and inviting with red button-tuck booths that put you to rest like a baby in a cradle. It worked but it shouldn't have. Call it irresistible--but not quite as irresistible as it is now that Katie inhabits this intimate space.

For, in addition to Katie's irresistible nature, the cooking itself deserves serious notice in its new incarnation. Quality was outstanding. Most everything we sampled was composed of the freshest products, right down to the delicious desserts made by Katie herself.

The cafe sits across the street from the Pruneridge Golf Course on the end of a mini-mall. The place looks like a takeout joint from the outside. But it's not. Believe me, with a few adjustments in the cooking, Café Amore may be one of the year's most endearing culinary finds.

The magic of this place comes from those red booths. I've been to a lot of restaurants but never one where the booths are among the reasons I like to return. But it's true here.

Decor is Katie's trump card, no question. She worked this place out right down to the china plates--all of them of diverse ethnic origin--hanging decoratively on the walls and utilized for the meal itself. My guest called the whole look "folky," which makes sense. Little lamps adorn all tables as well as various nooks--the warm golden shades have prints that look African, Asian and Eastern European. And there is a charming wainscoting of a single cityscape painted in primitive motifs with an inscription of the golden rule, repeated again and again along the walls in the dining room. "I guess they really mean it here," commented another guest, referring to the words on the wall that create a visual echo that sings "Love your neighbor as yourself."

This you can take for granted here. Katie Gerrard Scheuch does love you, and not just because of the golden rule inscribed on the wallpaper or the name of her cafe (perhaps inspired by Dean Martin's intoxicating ballad), but just because she's that way. That's what my guests and I felt, anyway. This restaurant pulsates with kindness. Once you enter you feel at home, like kicking off your shoes and dipping a finger in the sauce just for a taste.

Katie, of course, pilots the kitchen; she works very hard, perhaps too hard. How this dear lady can pay such attention to detail while jogging from kitchen to dining room--cooking and greeting guests--is beyond me. But she does it. God bless her.

Her attention to detail was announced from the very beginning with our first appetizer, bruschetta ($5), assembled with criss-crossing strips of red pepper on warm, creamy asiago cheese. Marinating in a bowl at the center was a relish of tomato and garlic. A perfect balance of flavors.

Gorgonzola tapenade ($6) was just as good, again with toast, but this time crowned with melted Gorgonzola and a tangy puree of olives.

Dinners come with a choice of homemade soup or salad. The soup that night was a wholesome but flat-tasting Greek-style lemon and rice soup. We were pleased far more by the salad, an immaculate assortment of good greens and salami, dressed lightly with olive oil and vinegar.

Though the entree menu is predominantly Italian, a few curious departures--like Thai chicken salad, shepherd's pie and shrimp jambalaya--stretch the theme in many different directions. At first it threw me off, but I soon realized that Katie is a chef with vision. Hence, the dishes she chooses to offer reflect an innovative culinary mind. I may not have been impressed with everything we ate that night, but I couldn't help being impressed with her adventuresome spirit and willingness to try new things.

Pasta Amore ($14) was our favorite; as stated on the menu, it's a Katie's original. Strips of boneless chicken breast are sauteed with garlic, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, capers and kalamata olives. This flavorful amalgam is then served over tender linguine and finished with roasted walnuts and blue cheese.

A dish that didn't work was the chicken puttanesca ($14). The recipe--allegedly concocted by the harlots of Naples to provide much-needed stamina--proved a listless version lacking both the spiciness and the fire we've come to expect from puttanesca. The ingredients were present--I saw them--but the sauce hit the taste buds like an overcooked marinara.

Our luck picked up again with the chicken Marsala ($13), listed on the menu under old-time favorites. Two flawless chicken breasts, full of juice and flavor, were cooked with whispers of Marsala and applied to pasta in the same manner as the aforementioned recipes. What I liked most was how natural everything tasted.

All of our dessert selections were received well at the table, especially the cheesecake and the fresh blueberries spooned over rich vanilla ice cream.

Our waitress that night was a friend of Katie's; she comes by to help out whenever business gets brisk. Though not a permanent employee here, she knew her stuff, dealt dishes like a pro and embraced the theme of love and kindness. In an authentic neighborhood restaurant like Katie's, it's no surprise that family friends are pressed into service when things get busy. As Dino once crooned: "That's amore!"


Katie's Cafe Amore
Address: 351 Saratoga Ave., Santa Clara
Phone: 408/246-2333
Hours: Tue.-Thu. and Sun. 5-9pm; Fri.-Sat. 5-9:30pm
Cuisine: family-style Italian

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From the September 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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